One hundred years ago today, newspaper subscribers across the United States saw a photograph of First Lady Grace Coolidge sampling a Girl Scout cookie on October 17.
First Ladies and Girl Scouts
Mrs. Coolidge had just stepped into the shoes of First Lady Florence Harding after President Warren G. Harding’s sudden death in August. Vice President Calvin Coolidge became president, and Mrs. Harding passed her charitable roles to Grace.
Beginning with Edith Wilson in 1917, every First Lady had served as honorary National President of the Girl Scouts.
On October 17, 1923, Girl Scout troops formally invited First Lady Grace Coolidge to assume this role. She accepted at a public ceremony near the White House that also kicked-off cookie season.
National Board member Mrs. Percy H. Williams and Washington Council director Ruth White joined members of Washington DC Troop 42 to welcome their new honorary leader.
This was not the current cookie program, where sales benefit local troops. That format was just gaining national interest after the official American Girl magazine published a recipe and marketing tips in 1922.
Instead, in 1923 Girl Scouts hoped to sell one million cookies to pay for their new national headquarters, to be built at 670 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The goal was $439,703.
Mrs. Coolidge was not the only celebrity publicizing the cookie sale that week. Baseball legend Babe Ruth posed as well.
It would never happen today, of course, but journalists of the time confused Washington Girl Scouts with GSUSA Girl Scouts, and all sides wanted credit for baking the sugar cookies. The most likely scenario was that New York troops baked cookies that Washington troops presented in person. I can imaging Mrs. Williams riding the train with a big container of cookies.
And, about those cookies, newspapers alternately described a five-pound bag of cookies or a five-foot-tall bag of cookies. Reports compared the bag to a mail bag, but the bag offered by Abigail Potter in the photo is hardly five-feet tall. Abigail herself looks barely five feet tall.
Either way, that’s a big bag of cookies.
Around the Camp Fire
October 17 must have been Mrs. Coolidge’s meet-and-greet day. She also met with a group of Camp Fire Girls. But they brought flowers, not snacks, and received very little press coverage.
© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian